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Kite crazy.

Feeling a little tako kichi these days? Going "kite crazy" is a spring obsession in Japan, where whole villages turn out to build and fly giant kites. Here in the West, we've caught some of their kite madness, turned it high tech--and taken the lead. Today, Asian kite fliers look to West Coast kitemakers for the hottest, fastest, and most maneuverable designs. And our kite flying teams are snagging the top awards at international competitions.

Asian traditions continue, however, to inspire kite fliers on this side of the Pacific. Thanks in part to the West's richness in Pacific Rim populations, we're seeing a broader array of florid, whimsical Asian models at kite shops and festivals here. With spring breezes freshening, this is a good time to look at an activity that now embraces both the grace and art of the classic styles and the two-fisted muscularity of the new hightech varieties.


Kites come in two basic types: classic single-line models and dual- or multiline stunt ones. Flying a standard single-line kite is still a relaxing, lazy-day type of experience--you reel the line out, then sit back and enjoy. With stunt kites, the added lines that give them speed and maneuverability also make you work harder--both hands are busy, controlling separate 150foot-long lines unwound before the kite is launched. Once it's aloft, you bend, twist, hop, and backpedal; the kite dances with you, soaring at speeds of up to 100 mph.

At many festivals, you can watch stunt kite teams competing in precision and aerial ballet contests that resemble figure skating routines. With their choreography set to music, the kites zip, dart, and swoop with the roar of a jet engine, while judges give them marks for timing, precision, and artistry.

New fabrics and materials have allowed designers to build models that are bigger and stronger, yet lighter than kites of years past. Today's designs also offer greater control and the ability to fly in a wider range of wind conditions.

Sail material in modern kites is no longer limited to paper: it might be plastic, Mylar, or costly urethane-coated ripstop nylon. Remember the spruce spars that framed old dime-store kites? Some kites still use wood, but today's spars may be fiberglass or aluminum-carbon tubing. And while plain cotton twine was once the only choice in kite line, now you'll find everything from cheap but easily tangled monofilament to high-density polyethylene that's hundreds of times stronger.

Whereas single-line kite lines are often wound around spools, reels, or hoops, stunt kites fly on lines controlled by twin molded-plastic handles, foam grips, or padded straps wound around the wrists.


Single-line kites come in the widest array of shapes dragons, deltas, diamonds, wind-inflated sleds and airfoils, boxes, and cellulars. In dual-line stunt kites, you'll find deltas, diamonds, and airfoils. There are also unique compound kites, such as a bowknot-shaped one called the Revolution. (Flown on four lines, it's fast and highly maneuverable the only kite that can truly fly backward.)

We list standard shapes in order of flying ease, give wind conditions best for each style, and list average starting prices for good beginner versions.

Dragon or octopus. Shown at near right below, this is the easiest starter kite to fly and the best for children. It's a popular, inexpensive, and colorful kite with a curved spar and long tail and can be made of Mylar (for light winds) or nylon (for heavier winds). Starting cost: $12.

Delta. Like a tiny hang glider, it has flexible wings that conform to air currents for lift. Single-line models are inexpensive and well suited for beginners; many have keels for added stability. It flies in light to moderate winds. Starting cost: $24.

As a stunt kite, the delta is fast and responsive, making it the most popular shape. Sometimes it is flown in a train of many small deltas. In general, this style can handle the widest wind range light to very heavy. Starting cost: $27.

Diamond A good beginner style, it's the shape we all flew as children and still associate with the word kite. Small diamonds are often stacked and flown in dramatic trains. The classic single-line diamond shape is very stable with a tail but doesn't move around much. It flies best in light to moderate winds. Starting cost: $15.

Diamonds make extremely maneuverable stunt kites, though some models are slightly slower than delta stunt kites. Very light diamonds can fly in light winds; larger, sturdier ones can handle heavy winds. Starting cost: single $17; three-kite train $45.

Wind-inflatable. This may be a sled or an airfoil design; with either, the wind fills out the shape.

Sleds--flat rectangles with two side panels--may have two cross spars, or no spars but two pockets to catch wind. Sparless models can be waded up to carry in your pocket and are nearly indestructible. Sleds fly best in moderate winds. Starting cost: $27.

An airfoil (such as one shown here) is a wind-inflated series of fabric tubes; ribs give it a wing shape, and fins add stability. As a single-line kite, it has no spars and thus is unbreakable but not very maneuverable. It flies best in moderate winds. Starting cost: $20. Dual-line stunt airfoils have a leading-edge spar for increased speeds and tighter turns. They fly in moderate to heavy winds. Starting cost: $80.

Box or cellular. In addition to the standard box shape, look for multichambered stars, crystals, and snowflakes that fly on single lines. Wings are often added for lift. These kites are showy but fairly heavy and not very maneuverable, and they need moderate winds to stay aloft. Some styles tumble for effect when you add slack to the line. Starting cost: simple box $17; complex crystals and snowflakes $110.


Kites have a long history in Asia. China claims the first documented kites; an ancient text tells of a wooden bird kite flown in the fourth century B C Some Asian styles are unique to particular regions or even towns. Increasingly, these traditional single-line kites are showing up at festivals in the West.

Classic Chinese kites have sails of paper or silk stretched over heat-shaped bamboo; styles are often elaborate creatures--dragons, lions, or butterflies.

Other countries including Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and India--favor fighting kites flown on lines coated in ground glass to cut opposing kites out of the sky.

The Japanese rokkaku is a large (up to 8 feet tall), fairly slow, six-sided fighting kite. In Japan, teams of as many as 50 people may fly a single giant rokkaku; at festivals here, you'll most often see battles between three-person teams.

The Korean fighter is a delicate-looking, rectangular paper kite with a hole in the middle and two "ears" at the trailing edge for stability. Battles are usually one-on-one.

Malaysia's oval wau bulan, made of paper and bamboo, is a fast-flying fighter that darts and dances.

In India, kite fighting is so pervasive that just launching a tiny diamond-shaped fighter is seen as an invitation for another flier to try to cut it out of the sky.


"First, figure out how you want to use the kite as an occasional toy, as a sky sculpture, for an athletic experience, as art, as a dance partner," advises kite shop owner Steve Lamb. Look in the yellow pages under Kites for a shop, or attend a kite festival for ideas and to talk with other fliers.

Brooks Leffler, executive director of the American Kite-fliers Association, adds: "Consider where you'll most often be flying--you wouldn't want to skim the ground with a $400 high-performance kite at a busy city park, for example, where you might hurt a bystander or the kite."

Ask if a package of equipment is included lines, handles, carrying bag. Find out if the kite's wind range matches conditions in your area. For areas that get steady winds, look for a sturdy, heavier model. In places where winds are more fickle, lightweight, easily launched kites are the obvious choice. To get more involved, join the American Kitefliers Association by calling (800) 252-2550. Dues are $20; membership includes six newsletters a year.


Kite fliers don't ask for much just steady winds and a lot of elbow room. But finding surefire conditions can be tricky. Some areas are so reliable they've become meccas, worth seeking out to fly kites as well as to meet local experts and perhaps tap into their wealth of knowledge.

In California, San Francisco's Marina Green has spectacular bayside scenery but too many tourists for flying stunt kites safely it's best for single-line kites. Shoreline park in Mountain View was one of the first parks to set aside an area just for kite fliers. The Tecolote Shores area of San Diego's Mission Bay Park is where the local kite club meets.

In Honolulu, Kapiolani Regional Park boasts a dramatic Diamond Head backdrop. In Oregon, D River Wayside State Park in Lincoln City gets steady onshore breezes. Long Beach, Washington, offers a sandy 7-mile launching pad; Seattle's Gas Works Park is scenic but busy best for single-line kites.

You can learn more about kite history at two museums and a science center. In Long Beach, the 2-year-old World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame, at Third Street and Boulevard Avenue, is open 11 to 5 weekends; admission is free. You can see kite videos; fighter kites from India, Thailand, Korea, and Japan; and a collection of silk-and-bamboo Chinese kites.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, the tiny International Kite Museum, 3200 Surfside Street, occupies part of the Best Western motel. The one-room display of kite history and a kite shop are open, free, from 10 to 5 daily.

Seattle's Pacific Science Center, 200 Second Avenue N., will offer a display of international kites March 29 through April 26, and a kitemaking fair April 4 and 5. Admission costs $5, $4 ages 6 through 13, $3 ages 2 through 5.

kite festivals coming up . . . wherever the wind blows in the West

Kite festivals have proliferated along the coast, where prevailing winds are often kindest to kites. Some of the biggest and best multiday festivals are in spring. All are free and most run from about 10 to dusk. Rain cancels; call to check weather and program details.

March 5 through 8: Hawaii Challenge International Sport Kite Championships, Kapiolani park, Honolulu. Team precision and ballet contests, workshops, demonstrations. Call (808) 922-5483.

April 24, 25, and 26: Puffin Kite Festival at Surfsand Resort, Cannon Beach, Oregon. Rokkaku battles, other fighter kites, stunt teams, and a children's workshop. Call (800) 547-6100.

May 2 and 3: Redwood Coast Kite Festival (Behind the Redwood Curtain Kite Fly) at Samoa Beach, Eureka, California. Rokkaku battles, precision and aerial ballet team flying, games. Call (800) 356-6381.

May 9 and 10: Lincoln City (Oregon) Spring Kite Festival at D River Wayside State Park. Flying lessons and kitemaking help. Call (800) 452-2151.

May 15, 16, and 17: Rockaway Beach (Oregon) Kite Festival at state wayside. Indian fighter kite and rokkaku demonstrations, kite swap. Call (800) 331-5928.

May 16 and 17: Grand Junction (Colorado) Kite Festival at Veteran's Park, Grand Junction. A "fun fly" with children's kitemaking demonstrations. Call (303) 242-9244 .

May 28 through 31: International Kite Retreat, Junction, Texas. Serious kitemaking workshops, classes; $120 fee includes meals, lodging. Call (806) 742-3027. Here are a few major events later in the year:

July 25 and 26: Berkeley Kite Festival and California National Kite Championships at North Waterfront Park. More than 200 fliers, precision team events, most beautiful kite contest, and children's kitemaking. Call (510) 525-2755.

August 17 through 23: Washington State International Kite Festival takes over the beach at Long Beach. The big daddy of kite events: demonstrations, international kite styles, beautiful kite contest, lighted night fly, games. Call (206) 642-2202.

September 26 and 27: Lincoln City (Oregon) Fall Kite Festival at D River Wayside State Park. Kite battles, ballets, lighted kite fly, lots of international styles. Call (800) 452-2151 .
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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